Published Nov 4, 2008 - (Updated Apr 25, 2012)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2008 issue.
First-time visitors to Mexico often marvel at our country’s vast heritage. It is no wonder that so many tourists from the United States and Canada head south and often choose to relocate here. But unless we pay close attention, we frequently fail to realize the extent to which Mexico has permeated the world. Read on and you’ll realize that, even if you haven’t been to Mexico before, Mexico’s been closer to you than you think.
Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay!
Chances are you don’t know the lyrics to Cielito Lindo, a traditional Mexican song written in 1882 by Quirino Mendoza. But just about anyone can latch on to the refrain when the time comes! La Bamba, a folk song written in Veracruz more than 300 years ago, was popularized in the 1950s by Ritchie Valens, who turned it into a Top 40 hit on the US charts, not to mention one of rock and roll’s best-known songs. And what do Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Diana Krall, The Beatles, Jimmy Dorsey and Andrea Bocelli have in common? They all have interpreted Bésame Mucho, or “Kiss Me a Lot,” by Mexican songwriter Consuelo Velázquez, who wrote the sensual ballad in 1940, before she was 16 and, for that matter, before she’d ever been kissed.
Pass the Testicles, Please
Originally used as currency by the Aztecs, cacao beans performed double duty as a bitter ritual beverage, which would eventually become one of our favorite treats: chocolate. The word itself derives from Náhuatl, the language spoken by this ancient Mexican ethnic group. Many other Aztec words have endured and found their place in the Spanish language and the vocabulary of many English-speaking visitors, such as chipotle (chilpoctli), jícama (xicamatl), pozole (potzolli) and tamale (tamalli). The term “coyote” is commonly used to refer to those who bring people into the USA from Mexico illegally. Amusingly, the term derives from Náhuatl (coyotli) and has managed to cross the border, literally and legally, becoming part of the English language. And if you are wondering about the heading for this section, one of our favorite fruits native to Mexico is also a favorite conversation starter: The word “avocado” comes from the Spanish aguacate, which in turn comes from the Nahuatl āhuacatl, which means “testicle.”
More Cosas Naturales
The William Wrigley Jr. Company, known around the world for its chewing gum products, may have been the first to introduce bar coding for their products. But chewing gum is an ancient pleasure, also native to Mexico. It was the Mayas who discovered that chicle, a liquid extracted from cuts made on certain types of trees that subsequently hardens to a gum, was particularly tasty.
Surrendering to the thrilling ride driving a Jaguar, particularly while wearing your fashionably stylish Puma shoes, may cause you to overlook a few interesting facts: Both the British luxury car manufacturer and the German-based athletic shoe and sportswear brand derive their names from Spanish words, “jaguar” and “puma,” two wild felines native to Mexico.
In the United States, December 12 is National Poinsettia Day, but the flower itself is indigenous to Mexico, having been used by the Aztecs for medicinal purposes and red dye. Even its association with Christmas can be traced to 16th-century Mexican legends that tell of a girl too poor to bring a suitable gift to a church. Inspired by an angel, she picked some weeds from the road, which blossomed into beautiful flowers.
Tequila and chili peppers aside, a number of products and inventions that have found their place in everyday life throughout the world came about as a result of Mexican ingenuity.
• Abacus — Granted, the Aztec version appeared after the Chinese one, but without any prior knowledge of one another!
• Birth Control Pill — Little did 26-year-old chemistry college student Luis Ernesto Miramontes know when in 1951, he synthesized norethindrone, the progestin used in one of the first oral contraceptives ever.
• Vulcanization — Goodyear tires rock, but the process of curing rubber goes back to the Aztecs, even though Charles Goodyear claims he invented the process in the 1840s.
• Team Sports — You’re probably thinking football, but the Mayas were there first with the Mexican Ball Game, a sacred team sport played in a court as early as 1000 BC.
• Color TV — In 1940, Mexican Guillermo Gonzalez Camarena filed patents on an early color television transmission system he invented, before CBS began experimenting with theirs.
Last, but certainly not least, while the song Tequila was featured in the 1985 film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and heavily referenced in American popular culture, the 1958 song by one-hit wonder The Champs was written (and sung!) by Daniel Flores, a saxophone player born to Mexican field workers in Santa Paula, California. Tequila!